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'Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game' review: Mike Faist led drama scores

Courtesy of Vertical


“Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game” is an unlikely story that’s so obscure, it can only be true. The film unpacks the tale of one man’s obsession with the arcade staple and his ability to convince a group of local politicians it wasn’t a gateway for gambling. Indeed, there was a time in history when the game of pinball was illegal (no, really) and writer/directors Austin and Meredith Bragg, along with lead star Mike Faist (a breakout in last year’s “West Side Story”) create a compelling angle to tell this borderline outlandish narrative. 

Set in the mid-to-late seventies, Faist plays real life figure Roger Sharpe, a massive pinball fan who found himself entangled in a legal battle with Chicago city officials to prove the game required skill and patience and not luck. The film offers an engaging docudrama-like approach reminiscent of “American Animals” that generates a certain level of ambiance in between a forced romantic subplot. Faist brings a rapid fire energy as Sharpe, who was introduced to the world of pinball while attending the University of Wisconsin. He found an escape into the mechanics and design of how the machines operate, leaning on them during a stressful job hunt in New York City where he eventually landed a gig at upstart men’s magazine GQ. 

“The Man Who Saved the Game” is told mostly through recollections and memories. Actor Dennis Boutsikaris plays the older version of Roger, who is quick to interject his nuanced opinion of what actually went down while his younger counterpart acts out the sequence in front of him. This crafty framing device helps maintain the film’s breezy tone even when Roger meets Ellen (Crystal Reed), a single mother he instantly falls for, in a romantic side quest that bogs down the pinball storyline. But things shift into gear once Roger sets out on an expansive journey to tell the game’s origin in a major book that would go on to reshape the industry. 

“The Man Who Saved the Game” showcases a unique and, at times, mind boggling history lesson on how cranky old men once saw the game as a threat to children (just wait until Nintendo). The movie leads to an inevitable (and dramatic) showdown with the crotchety city council members eager to keep pinball off the streets and Faist, sporting a thick porn stache, gives it his all. You can tell there are moments when the film’s minimalist budget holds it back (the production design needed more umph, especially in the arcade scenes), but the colorful approach to the material, a pair of commendable performances, and an engaging story goes a long way in capturing Roger Sharpe’s unbelievable crusade at salvaging pinball forever. 

Grade: B 

PINBALL: THE MAN WHO SAVED THE GAME opens in theaters and on digital Friday, March 17th. 


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